Well, hello! One of the more unfortunate casualties of my extended absence from this lightly-read blog -- due to reasons that were best explained here * -- was the interruption of TBG's second longest annual tradition**. Since 2007, I've waged prognosticatory WAR over professional football games with my great friend, Joe Reid.
From 2006-2008, I ruled over our football game-picking kingdom with a benevolence not seen since the 1988 reign of King Haku. But, in 2009, after finishing in second place for three straight years, Joe led a successful coup d'état -- a runner-uprising, if you will -- that abruptly ended the enlightened era. For the past four years, the kingdom has been analogously ruled by this guy.
* -- Sorry. As you know, Will Ferrell's six-month contract to appear EVERYWHERE doesn't expire until January 31, 2014.
** -- The longest tradition? Ask my intestine!
I kid, of course. I've known Joe since our days writing weekly columns together more than 10 years ago over at 411mania.com. He was one of the inspirations for the creation of this blog and he just so happens to be an incredible writer in his own, uh, right. His Twitter feed can be found here and his work can be found -- inhale -- here, here, here and here. He's a sweetheart of a guy and I love that bearded, Buffalonian lug.
As always, these picks are for entertainment purposes and tired references from The Simpsons ONLY.
Kansas City at Indianapolis (-2.5)
Joe: I really like this Kansas City team, but it's hard not to look at them as a beneficiary of a favorable schedule. Six of their eleven victories came against the five worst teams in the league, by record. They went 1-5 against teams that made the playoffs, and that win came against the Eagles before they rid themselves of the scourge of Michael Vick. The only teams they've beaten since the beginning of November were the Bills, Redskins, and Raiders (and the Bills really should have won that game, HONEST).
The Colts have only beaten the Texans, Titans, Jaguars, and one other team since the beginning of November, too, but that one other team was the Chiefs, in Kansas City, by 16 points. The Colts have been such a weird team all season. Wins over the 49ers, Seahawks, and Broncos. Blowout losses to the Cardinals and Rams (at home). Ultimately, I fall back on that 23-7 win, just two weeks ago. If the Colts could pull that off on the road? The Chiefs have to hope Jamaal Charles goes off, but it doesn't seem like teams ride hot running backs through the playoffs anymore.
Pick: Colts 31, Chiefs 24
Aaron: The hell is with all the statistical justification, Joe-worski? All serious and sh*t. A-a-a-nyway...I've spent the past four months trashing the Chiefs and the entry-level skill set of quarterback Alex Smith. His entire reputation is built on two things: a one-game statistical aberration against the Saints in that 49ers playoff game a few seasons ago AND any time current 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick struggles. Alex Smith is not a good quarterback. He's just not. Why is that so hard for you to understand, America?
That Chiefs defense IS good, though. (Swerve!) The inconsistency of the Colts is underscored by the media's oddly insatiable desire to shield QB Andrew Luck from any criticism. I mean, if we're talking about games our favorite teams should've won, the execrable Raiders had the Colts on the ropes. But, since boxing went extinct 15 years ago, I don't know how to finish that metaphor. The Raiders lost via...Technicolor...knock...boots? TKOB, right? Whatever. All I know is that Chiefs coach Andy Reid is contractually obligated to raise the hopes of his fan base before his inevitable heel turn.
Pick: Chiefs 23, Colts 7
New Orleans at Philadelphia (-2.5)
Joe: I would like nothing more than to disprove the increasingly strident Cold Weather Quarterbacks theory this year. But things really seem to be stacked against them here. They've looked decidedly ordinary in the last several weeks, while the Eagles really did seem to pull things together under Nick Foles, of all people. Honestly, there's a better-than-average chance that I'm overrating Philly because of how fun it was to watch that snow game against the Lions a few weeks ago. I'm okay with it.
That said, if Bill Simmons has taught us anything, it's that the most important factor in a football game is reverse psychology. Nothing helps linebackers make tackles and receivers not drop passes better than the relative lack of faith of observers (and more importantly, the gambling community). So if everything is stacking up against the Saints, what better time to pick them?
Pick: Saints 28, Eagles 27
Aaron: Hee! Oh, how I missed our mutual Bill Simmons bashing! Meanwhile, I'd like to respond to Joe's mentioning of the "Cold Weather Quarterbacks" theory with a theory of my own. I call it the "New Orleans Saints abject lack of a power running game" theory. In what's expected to be rather nippy conditions (It's going to be 72 degrees here in San Diego this weekend...am I using "nippy" appropriately? I really have no frame of reference here.) I half-expect Saints RB Mark Ingram to keel over at halftime with his stomach lightsabered open for warmth, Taun-Taun-style.
Like the rest of you, I rooted for this Eagles team to enjoy more success with the wholesome Michael Vick, but the nondescript Nick Foles just MIGHT be an NFL quarterback. I mean, he IS an NFL quarterback...but, I'm using that with emphasis. You know...emphasis. In the same way that Eagles WR Riley Cooper is a racist. Same thing.
Pick: Eagles 24, Saints 14
San Diego at Cincinnati (-7)
Joe: This seems rather too easy, doesn't it? The Bengals have actually looked very good at several points this season. The Chargers managed to back into the playoffs in one of the least spectacular ways I can remember. Perhaps my biggest regret of 2013 was not being able to experience the highs and lows of this Chargers season with you, Aaron? At what point would the gloating over a lost season have turned to stark terror at the thought they might actually make the playoffs?
Pick: Bengals 30, Chargers 20
Aaron: True story. Hand to God. Before the season started, I told co-workers that the Chargers had as good a chance at the sixth playoff seed as any team due to the overall mediocrity of the AFC. Chargers fans did NOT believe in this team in September, but a Raiders fan did?! Of course, I enjoyed San Diego's traditional last-second losses throughout the season and wept when they beat the Chiefs in their regular-season finale -- thanks to the fact that Kansas City played their second and third-string AND an egregious missed penalty call that should've given the Chiefs a second-chance at a late missed field goal.
But, hey, the locals are happy. I haven't seen this many Shawne Merriman jerseys hauled out of mothballs in years. And, they're going to be around for another week. Shhh...this Chargers team isn't awful. I'm picking with my head, instead of my heart here.
Pick: Chargers 27, Bengals 13
San Francisco (-3) at Green Bay
Joe: Once again, reverse psychology is the only factor that matters, and the Packers are the beneficiary of a lot of it. Probably too much. With an 8-7-1 record, going up against the 12-4 Niners, the Packers are quite the attractive pick for anybody who types "NOBODY BELIEVES IN US" in all caps like that. Of course ... everybody believes in "us" if "us" is Aaron Rodgers and "us" is the Packers at Lambeau in January. Yes, Green Bay has finally gotten the band back together at the right time, and if anybody going to pull off a run like the Ravens did last year, it would be them. I'd probably take them against the Saints or the Eagles this week. But these Niners really don't seem to have a whole lot of trouble with these Packers. Green Bay had Rodgers and Randall Cobb healthy back in week 1 when San Francisco handled them then too.
Pick: 49ers 34, Packers 28
Aaron: Who missed my wistful fantasy football musings this season? Well, let's catch up! I'd like to thank 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick for single-armedly torpedoing my team in one fantasy league and ruining what should've been a 12 or 13-win season in another. Oh, don't roll your eyes at me. I finished with nine wins IN SPITE of him. Here's what we know...(1) Packers QB Aaron Rodgers can play football good. (2) The 49ers were being called a disappointment and fans were wishing Alex Smith was still around roughly six weeks ago. (3) ESPN has already devoted 72 hours of air time to the "why is a 12-4 team on the road against an 8-7-1 team" contrived debate next week. Seriously...it's actually in my cable guide.
Pick: Packers 28, 49ers 10